Tech education startup Code Like a Girl has secured a $60,000 grant from Toyota to take its coding classrooms on the road and reach more children from different backgrounds — and co-founder and chief Ally Watson says this could be just the beginning of an inspirational Aussie tour.
Launched in Melbourne three years ago by Watson and co-founder Vanessa Doake, social enterprise Code Like a Girl runs coding workshops for girls aged between six and 18, in a bid to create more diversity in the technology workforce.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Watson estimates, to date, the startup has reached about 1,500 girls over the past two years. With their new Roaming Classroom for Rebel Girls pop-up classroom, they’re hoping to reach another 700 within the next six months.
The missing piece of the puzzle
Code Like a Girl was established to teach tech skills to young girls of all backgrounds. Costs were kept low to “make sure we weren’t cutting people out”.
However, until now workshops have mostly run from the HQs of tech firms in Melbourne’s CBD, in surroundings designed to inspire tech creativity.
If they did go outside of the city, sessions were more likely to be held in somewhat less inspiring community centres and libraries, Watson says.
Even though the city sessions were affordable, for the most part, it was children from affluent families living close to the CBD that were able to attend, Watson says.
Now, with their trailer decked out with gadgets, posters of influential women and inspiring quotes, “there’s no limit to where we can go and the experience we can provide”, she says.
It’s about addressing a missing piece of the puzzle. The team realised if they wanted to truly make tech accessible to as many people, from as many backgrounds, as possible, “going to them is the key”.
According to Watson, research shows fewer people from low-income families get into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers, partly because of “internal limitations about their intelligence”.
This is something the tech startup is setting out to “untangle”. Code Like a Girl is out to change this way of thinking, give females tangible role models, and “create teaching that’s engaging, fun, and teaches them problem-solving — which is at the core of coding”, she says.
“We wanted to start engaging a wider audience … not just adding more privilege to an already privileged IT workforce,” she says.
It’s designed to show that coding is cool, Watson says. And that’s what technology needs to do to get kids of all backgrounds interested.
“It’s a cool and innovative space where your imagination can run wild,” she says.
“That message, unfortunately, isn’t getting to them.”
The roaming classroom will start in October in Brimbank, before travelling one weekend per month to Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Melton, Moonee Valley and Wyndham.
Code Like a Girl is also taking the tour inter-state, having signed up for the Adelaide Fringe next year, and Watson says she’s already had interest from the Northern Territory.
“What a fun road trip that will be,” she says.
Take yourself seriously
Looking back, in the early days of Code Like a Girl, Watson says she and Doake “were probably very under-confident, despite being very skilled”.
“I wish we had been more confident at the start,” Watson says.
While this has improved over time, she says it’s still strictly “evidence-based confidence”. Equally, while impostor syndrome still creeps up on her occasionally, it’s becoming less and less of a problem over time.
For founders who might be lacking confidence, or who feel there’s no one in the tech space who looks like them, Watson advises that being different is a good thing here.
“Being the first is a really good place to be,” she says.
“Don’t let that be something that puts you off … be very memorable.”
She also advises founders to take themselves seriously right from the start. She and Doake started Code Like a Girl as “a passion project” — something they did as a hobby.
The pair were “almost embarrassed” to finally call themselves a business, and that attitude led to “a lot of misaligned expectations”, she says.
“It took us a really long time to change gear into business mode,” she says.
“Just take it seriously from the start and you will see the progress … And don’t be ashamed to call yourself the chief executive when there’s only two of you,” she adds.
If you take yourself seriously from the start, others will take you seriously too, Watson says.
“Don’t let yourself hold yourself back.”